NPC: Uengghae, Elloekothe
Location: Kashiin Siir Downport then Kashiin Siir
The trio exit the ship and walk up the gantry arm to the downport concourse. The
air in the walkway is stifling. Upon pushing open the door to the concourse, a
blast of cool air welcomes them.
Uengghae and Elloekothe sniff the air. Even Lakir notices that it's dry and there's a slight chemical smell, like baked vinyl. It might be coming from the carpet, the high traffic short pile variety.
The ship has touched down in the private, non-commercial traffic wing of the downport. There is no pedestrian traffic. There is one token bench of plastic chairs for each gate, and each faces the huge plate glass windows that look out upon the tarmac. The concourse is six meters from gate to far wall. A sign on the wall across from the gate door states that the main terminal, where the bustle of downport commerce can be heard, is to the trio's right, along with gates 1-9 (the ship is parked at gate 10). Gates 11-30 are to the left.
Elloekothe points to the right and says, "There's a train that shuttles back and forth from the downport to the city. We'll find it in the main terminal."
The trio then head into the main terminal. Pedestrian traffic seems to be about 50/50 on the human/vargr mix. Downport employees appear to be predominantly human. Elloekothe spots a sign for "Transportation" over a broad stairwell leading down. The next level down appears to be for ground transportation. She takes them down another level, marked "TRAINS".
The stairs open up onto a cavernous room. Behind a ticket counter lay eight sets of tracks. Elloekothe buys round trip tickets for the three of them and then proceeds towards the security gate. Bored looking workers look on as would be passengers pass through metal detectors. No one in the group triggers any alarms.
The trio then proceed to Track 7, the next train departing, and find seats for all of them. Lakir sits between the two vargr. The train soon fills up; the remaining seats are taken. Five minutes later, the train leaves the station.
"How long a ride is it?" Uengghae asks.
"Thirty minutes," Elloekothe answers.
The train arrives at the station without incident. They disembark and follow the
crowd to the city trains level. Elloekothe remarks that taxis were banned as
they were deemed an inefficient use of the world's limited fuel supply. Instead,
the fuel is used to run the power plants that provide the electricity to
operate the trains. On the surface, bicycles and tricycles are common. There
are also small motorcycles for those who can afford to pay the licensing and
registration fees, not to mention the fuel costs.
As they move through the station, Lakir notes the security cameras scattered throughout. If the little red lights are to be trusted, not all of them appear to be working. Maybe 80%.
Elloekothe picks a subway car that leads downtown. It's fairly packed with people, all of them human. It makes Lakir uneasy as the crowd might target his companions for some payback.
Elloekothe notes Lakir's unease and shakes her head. In a hushed voice, she says, "Won't be a problem here." She indicates with a nod of her snout that there's a security camera, and it's red light is on. "More of a concern where there are no eyes."
They ride the train for five minutes, disembark, and pick up another subway headed west. They ride this one another five minutes, disembark, and head to the surface.
Outside, the sun is slowly setting. The air is a bit thin for Lakir's taste. He makes it a point not to overexert himself until he can acclimate.
The neighborhood is tenements from the second floor up. Street level is government-owned services and supply stores and the occasional bar and restaurant. There are scant few other businesses. There are signs that say "New Business Coming Soon" and "New Government Service Provider Coming Soon". They all seem like they've been up for a while.
Elloekothe explains that the bars are allowed to stay open as they provide the people an outlet for relieving stress. The restaurants are forced to use imported food as the government has a monopoly on locally grown food which it cooks up in its cafeterias. Private cooking is deemed wasteful and is frowned upon, but isn't illegal.
She leads the trio into a corner bar named "Bar 8745".
"That's a strange name," Uengghae quips.
"It's named after the intersection: 87th Street and 45th Avenue," Elloekothe replies.
"Oh." He stops and points to a what appears to be a wall in the distance. "What's that?"
"Shield wall. Cuts down on encroaching sand storms. Also doubles as a prison wall, though the government won't admit it."
Before Uengghae can ask anymore questions, Elloekothe ducks into the bar.
It looks a bar like one on any other world. Maybe even one of the Terran "Old West" tales with all the sand and dust on the floor. All eyes turn to stare at the trio as they enter. It's clear that they don't like what they see. A silence falls upon the place.
But before anything bad happens, a loud voice says, "Everyone relax. This is El. She's a friend, not a subjugator." A tall man emerges from the crowd and walks over to greet Elloekothe. He has close-cropped gray hair that used to be black. His mustaches is grey and there's a couple days worth of stubble on his dark brown face.
He gives her a hug, which gets everyone to relax and go back to what they were doing.
Elloekothe introduces the guy as Muginki Arkarde and then introduces Uengghae and Lakir. He then leads the group to a table in the back, near the kitchen.
"How have you been?" Elloekothe asks.
"The same. Nothing's really changed since you left. People are growing more used to the occupation. The vargr advisory board recommended that the Ministry of Sustenance relax some of the food restrictions."
"The Ministry of Sustenance said that they'd consider it."
Uengghae speaks up, "For such a high law level world, I was surprised that the authorities didn't harass us."
Muginki sighs. "That, my furry friend, is because you're a vargr. All vargr—and any humans with them—are free to move about. If Lakir here were alone, he would've been stopped."
"He's got a tourist visa."
"All that means is they'd let him go, or provide him with a police escort to make sure he wasn't here to cause trouble." He pauses. "But I'm sure this isn't a school field trip. What brings you to Kashiin?"
Elloekothe's voice drops in volume. "We need to find Dhunkul."
"Why? Are you finally going to kill him?"
"Not yet. We need him for a job."
Muginki looks like he's had the wind knocked out of him. "A job? What kind of job? No, wait. Never mind. I don't want to know. It can't be good. And if you told me, I'd be tempted to not to help you."
"We need him to orchestrate get us access to even worse wolves: ones that would slaughter billions. We need to stop them, but only he can get us close."
"So you need the help of a depraved wolf so that you can stop a pack of genocidal wolves." He pauses and leans back in the booth. "I don't envy you."
"Now you see my predicament."
"Yeah. I can help you. He's downtown at the Shur Thing Club. Ya know the place?"
"Yeah. Just another sordid boys club where naked people entertain the rich."
Muginki nods. "But there's more. They can be bought and sold too. Word is that Dhunkul is planning on buying some more toys for himself and his friends."
Lakir asks, "So what if I show up with these two? Better if I not go, or how does it play out, otherwise? I'm not inta' bein' sold off as a slave."
Muginki manages a smile. "You don't have anything to worry about. You're not pretty enough."
Muginki continues, "Only young women and weak boys get sold. If you're male and strong enough to pull your weight in the mines or processing facilities, that's where you go. The weak and pretty are the ones that wind up down at the club. And people don't show up at the club to sell; they show up to buy or just be entertained. If you're with these two, you're safe.
"The place used to be supplied solely by the Touzagh. And it wasn't just the sex trade, though that's what the place is known for. They'd have skilled personnel—pilots, techs, engineers—that they'd captured. Since they folded, the remaining owner plucks from the local pool, so back to being all about sex and servitude."
Elloekothe asks, "How do I get in? I'm not exactly flush with cash."
"There's a bouncer name Gikhuge working the door tonight. Just tell him that I sent you. He'll let you in."
"Thanks. I owe you one, Mug."
"I'll put it on your tab."
With that, Muginki and Elloekothe stand and hug. She makes for the door and Uengghae and Lakir follow her out.
NPC: Major Arsashaammu
Location: Pack of Daggers, parked at the Kashiin Siir Downport
Gvarokh leaves the bridge and heads down to sick bay to see the ship's doctor,
Major Arsashaammu. He finds her examining a sample of microscopic flora on a
"Captain Gvarokh, I wasn't expecting you. What can I do for you?"
"Irma, I need to have a word with you regarding this...mission we're on."
"Ok." She turns her back to the screen so that he has her full attention.
"I need to know how far you're willing to go to complete this mission."
She seems a bit off put by the request. "I thought that the admiral made it quite clear. We're supposed to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission."
Gvarokh responds, "I apologize, I was not clear on my question. I remember what the admiral said, and I know neither you nor Elloe would be on this mission if you were not willing to follow that directive. In fact, I also fully expect that Elloe, and probably you, are independently under orders to ensure that takes place, regardless of what that means for me and the rest of the crew. I would be surprised if that wasn’t the case.
"What I am asking about is something more. We need to make sure we have multiple avenues to accomplish the goal. I expect to eventually gain access—desired or not—to the pathogen. How much do you think you can do with it, if given full access to it? Obviously, developing an antidote or immunity to it would be great, but would you be able to modify it? Redirect it or make it more specialized?"
"I'm not entirely sure what I'll be able to do with it. The biogeneers on Gemid are renown through the Imperium for their...skills. I'm hoping that in my epidemiological analysis I'll be able to determine what's going on at the cellular level. Once I derive its method of mRNA synthesis and figure out which proteins it targets, I can see where it fits on the Baltimore Classification chart...sorry, you don't need the fine details.
"Yes, I'm hoping to come up with some kind of vaccine to prevent infection. An antidote would be wonderful, but I'm not sure that I have the equipment to synthesize a retrovirus to undo the damage. Modification is likely beyond the scope of my equipment as well. It all depends on what I find."
"If it is up to the task, do you think you could modify it to only affect vargr or make its attack vector different so it would bypass any of their immunities?"
Irma is silent for a few seconds, staring blankly at Gvarokh. After composing her response, she says, "I'm not sure that I would do that even if I could. Once released into the wild, there's no telling what could happen. It might mutate into a version that could kill us anyway or even all life forms on a world. I'd kill myself before I'd let that happen."
Gvarokh leans back some and slowly smiles. He then responds, "So, there are limits for what you are willing to do to accomplish this mission. I am very glad to hear that."
She noticeably exhales, as if she's been holding her breath pending Gvarokh's response. Her eyes brighten. She is obviously relieved to hear Gvarokh say that.
Gvarokh leans forward again and sincerely says, "Thank you."
She quickly nods and smiles, somewhat embarrassed.
Without really pausing, but with the smile long gone, he explains, "This is such a difficult mission, with hard odds against us. As such, I have to think of any options I can, no matter what they may be. When I have these ideas, I need to know which are possible and which are not possible, so I can focus on those that are possible. This helps with my understanding of what is and is not possible."
Gvarokh says goodbye and returns to the bridge.
[...to be continued...]